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Vilcabamba, Ecuador to Huaraz, Peru 8-12-08 to 9-9-08

September 9, 2008

Sometimes we wonder how many Grand Canyons we have biked in and out of or how many Mt. Everests we have biked to the top of if you add up our total elevations so far on this crazy bike trip!  Here is a map of our route so far in Peru!!!!!  This is some of the toughest biking we`ve ever done!!!

          

border crossing from Ecuador to Peru

border crossing from Ecuador to Peru

 

 

 

The border followed a river, so a bridge was our border crossing.  Not much traffic comes this way, so we had to hunt down the immigration official on a back street to get  our passports stamped. We spent our first night in Peru in a very clean hostal in a very dirty small town!  The next morning, at the edge of town, we pedaled past a flock of very large turkeys that were dancing and fluffing their feathers for us!  It was fitting, because that is how we feel about the people in this area we have been biking through.  The people of southern Ecuador and northern Peru seem quite unfriendly.  They will  usually stand and gape – not stare – gape – at us as we pass, rarely responding to our greetings.  If they do respond, it is usually to holler the word most white travelers despise (us included!)  “GRINGO!”  These local people aren’t hostile, just not openly friendly.  We did have 1 boy chase us down though with a gift of a football-sized papaya!  When we offered to pay him, he said “NO, NO, GRATIS!” then ran off to chase his brother down the road and throw another papaya at his head.  We guessed papayas weren’t in very short supply around here!  What a nice gesture!

 

We took a day off at a super nice hotel in San Ignacio – the Gran Hotel.  It was just $21 U.S. including a full breakfast!   It would have been $100 in the U.S. was just as nice and totally spotless!  It became our quiet refuge, where we could relax, do internet, plan the next leg of our trip, all away from the unnervingly, gaping gazes of the northern Peruvians. 

 

 
 

Reflection in rice fields

Reflection in rice fields

 

 

 

We spent the night in Chachapoyas, a cool quiet mountain town, at a hostal with a pretty plant-filled courtyard, then on to 3 ½ more days of dirt roads.  We followed the river-valley, now more open, more arid, and much dustier to Liemabamba, then did a 4000′ climb into the cloud-forest to a damp campsite in the fog.  The next morning we did the longest descent of our trip –  a 9000′ drop on a shelf-type switchbacking dirt road.  It took 3 ½ hours to descend!  The views were spectacular, kind of like dropping into the Grand Canyon, but bigger!  As we got lower, the land turned more arid and by the time we got within 2000′ of the river, it was very hot and dry like the Utah desert.  We crossed the river at Balsas, then started a 7500′, 25 mile ascent back up to the high country!  We camped part way up, and while going for water Ralph ran into 2 Peruvian fellows that were descending the road on their way the opposite direction for a week long trip.  They had no panniers or bob trailers, but instead had all their gear in old frame backpacks on their backs!  Now that’s a tough ride! 

 

the long and winding road we just came up!

the long and winding road we just came up!

typical animals-people on the road

typical animals-people on the road

thrashing wheat by hand

thrashing wheat by hand

 

another way they thrash wheat

another way they thrash wheat

 

The next day after what seemed to be endless switchbacks, we topped out and had a commanding view all the way to the river we had crossed the day before 7500′ below us! WOW – WHAT HUGE COUNTRY!!! 

 After a day off in Celendin near the rim, we pedaled to Cajamarca and took a couple days off and spent some time at the Banos del Inca hotsprings (where Pat got a ½ hour massage for $7 U.S., great but still not as good as Joy’s massages!).  The next week we biked south on dusty dirt roads through the backcountry.  In places the dust lies 4” deep and in bikers’ terms is called “moon dust”  The landscape is hot, arid scrub.  The people are very poor here and live in adobe or rammed earth huts, eeking out a living on small plots of poorly producing farmland, where they raise small crops of grain or vegetables and have  very small herds of livestock.  The locals will lead their 2 to 5 milk cows and a handful of sheep out to a dry hillside in the morning, then sit there with them the whole day while they graze, then lead them home at night!  Most of the farm work is done by hand – plowing, planting, harvesting – even separating the kernels from the stalks of grain.  Some of the locals are creative though – they lay the stalks of grain out on the road, let the sparse traffic run over it, then scoop up the kernels after they have  been knocked off the stalks!  No one seems to own cars in northern Peru, getting around either by 3 wheel “chariot-like” motorcycle taxi, Toyota station wagon taxi, on the back of farm trucks or by walking for miles on end. 

31 switchbacks down- 24 switchbacks up!

31 switchbacks down- 24 switchbacks up!nothing but rocks and gray

 

 

The next day we headed south, dropped into hot lowlands and finally hit some beloved pavement.  We rode through river bottoms full of terraced fields flooded to grow rice, miles and miles of rice fields.  It looked very out of place in the arid landscape.  But since every meal in Peru – breakfast, lunch and dinner – is accompanied by a huge portion of rice, God knows they need to grow lots of rice!  We stayed in lowlands several days, following the Rio Utaubamba, then climbed into a gorgeous, tight, rock canyon with sheer rock faces soaring 2000′ to 3000′ straight up on either side  There were a number of rock overhangs which looked like the road crew had tried to bore a tunnel through the rock, but one side fell away.  It was spectacular!  Between Pedro Ruiz and Chahapoyas, we had to wait at a highway construction roadblock.  They told us we’d have to wait until noon (it was 10 AM at the time!)  Well, noon came and went, so did the afternoon.  Finally at 4:00 they informed us that the road would not be open until 6:30!  It is pitch dark by 7 PM, so there was no way we’d  be able to ride the canyon ahead of us 30 miles to the next town, so we got a ride in a potato truck.  The driver informed us they had been stopping traffic here every day, all day!  (The highway crew never even hinted that this was the case – every single day!)

After a day spent relaxing in the hot tub at the hostal, we headed south toward Peru.  The first day we quickly left the pavement behind and started on what was to be 4 ½ days of steep rough dusty dirt roads.  We climbed into Parque  Podocarpus to a lofty campsite near the summit our first night.  From our campsite we had a commanding view of 2 huge valleys, one of which we descended (3600′!) the next morning, then spent the next several days climbing steeply to a summit, then dropping into a hot dry river valley only to climb and drop again and again.  We crossed into Peru just south of Zumba, Ecuador!

31 switchbacks down- 24 switchbacks up!

31 switchbacks down- 24 switchbacks up!nothing but rocks and gray

tunnels - tunnels

tunnels - tunnels

 

 

 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and more tunnels

and more tunnels

the most beautiful waterfall on our trip!

the most beautiful waterfall on our trip!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We rode past several large-scale gold mines at 10,000 to 12,000′, then descended once again 31 switchbacks to a river below and then up 24 switchbacks on the opposite side, to a village on a ridge high above, then plunged down even deeper into a gargantuan rock canyon, which we followed for some 50 miles.  (Bet you’re getting exhausted just reading this!  We sure were by this point!)  This canyon intersected another mammoth canyon at the dusty little village of Chuquicara.   We climbed some more through the bowels of this canyon for 30 miles on a rough rocky road, to a junction of 2 canyons, then up a very narrow rock canyon, Canyon del Pato.  It has 35 one lane tunnels along a windy, rocky, dusty dirt road.  It finally opened up into a more broad valley where we climbed gradually back up to 10,000′ past the now buried town of Yungay, where 20,000 people got buried in a 1970 massive landslide created by an earthquake!  As a memorial, a huge rose garden now covers the site.  Roses of every  color are tended by local workers.  It is a beautiful memorial to the lives lost in this tragic event!

 We are currently in Huaraz, a town that is on the west side of the Cordillera Blanca, a mountain range that has 50 peaks over 19,000′ covered in glaciers and that white stuff we miss, called snow!  When we leave here, the real climbing will begin!  There are a number of 16,000′ passes in our path!  So, we are busy eating our Wheaties and preparing ourselves for the mountains that are calling us once again!

Ralph having dessert on the plaza- 19,000´peaks in the background!

Ralph having dessert on the plaza- 19,000´peaks in the background!

 

Oh yeah – Ralph has renamed his 100 lb bike “the anchor” and is wondering just how it will feel to lug it up to 16,000′!

 

Until next time, bikin’ On,

Ralph & Pat

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7 comments

  1. Truly amazing! It is hard to believe that you have been doing for 15 months!!! We love to read your stories. Thank you. Take care.
    Love, MKEHA


  2. Ralph and Pat, all I can say is I’m in awe of the two of you..Miss you both!, and be safe. Barb


  3. WOW–

    This is unbelievable, incredible. So happy I am with you on your trip, yet so happy my old bones aren’t with you.

    Love to you both,

    Diane


  4. hola patty y ralph.
    veo que sasiaron su sed de montañas,me dejo impresionado la foto de las 31 curvas bajando y las 24 subiendo , uff , uff , uff, me canse de solo ver la foto.
    muy bueno el nickname de la bike(el ancla)je, je ,je, je, muy grafico.
    un abrazo y mil besos.
    gonzalo gomez botero


  5. You guys are as tough as nails now. I can’t imagine how hard it would be to just breathe at that altitude.
    We had a beautiful fall color ride along the Black Canyon of the Gunnison this weekend.
    Deb


  6. Hi friends,
    I hope you remember us. We are the mexicans traveling in the suv that met you near Siete Lagos in Argentina.
    Good to hear that you finally completed the tour. Need to tell you that you became our favorite story of our trip, and also became an example of will and a role model in our lives.
    We would love to hear from you!
    Best wishes,
    Luis, Ana and Luis Jr.
    p.s. I wrote early this year, I don’t know what happened with that comment.


    • Yes, we remember you two and your son! Hope you are all doing well – let us know how the rest of your trip went!
      Pat & Ralph



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